04/28/2019 ()

Bible Text: 2 Chronicles 34:1-8, 14-23; 2 Cor. 5:17 |

Have you ever been surprised by what you’ve found by accident? Often when I get stalled writing a sermon, I have to let the Scripture text percolate in my soul a while. So, I tinker around church or my house, doing mundane things to clear my mind and open up it up to the Spirit. Like putting the glasses back in the cupboard. One time, I thought the glasses looked a little out of order, so I rearranged the drinking glasses and - glory to God - I found a long-lost Hershey Bar! Of course I had to have a few squares, so I blew off the dust and unwrapped it. Still good! Have you ever been surprise by what you’ve found?

My son Todd and his wife were renovating a 1930’s era downtown house in Richmond, not far from Union Seminary. One Saturday, Todd took on the project of tearing out the crisscross wood panels under the front porch to be updated with black plywood boards. Seemed like a simple daylong job. But when the first panel was taken out, he discovered that the crawlspace under the porch was jammed top to bottom with all sorts of old household things. Barrels, a couple lawnmowers, beams, baskets, a hot water tank, metal pipes…everything including a kitchen sink. Nothing of value. It took him weeks to pull it all out and finally paid the junkman to get rid of it. A simple project cost him hundreds of dollars and days of extra work. Have you ever been surprised by what you found when you weren’t looking for it?

When I was packing up the pastor’s study for the last time, I sorted books into boxes. Some to take home, some to give away, some to throw away, some to donate to the church library and some were to go to Union Seminary’s library, including my 30-year collection of antique, miniature religious books and an 1886 leather bound Psalter. Packing up is a bit depressing and tends to be energy draining. I couldn’t believe how much stuff (that at one time I thought was too important to throw away) ended up in the recycle bin. (I wish I’d heard about Marie Kondo at the time.) So I got excited when I came to a shelf that held all the booklets, devotionals, studies that I’d written and had bound. I didn’t remember writing some of them or even saving them. I started reading the booklets and devotionals. I spent the rest of the afternoon going down memory lane. It surprised me how reading something I’d written years before was like reading a brand-new book. Some weren’t half bad. A couple were pretty good. But what surprised me most were two booklets I’d bound as gifts, years ago. One was a cookbook I wrote during my first sabbatical as a gift for the elders. It included recipes from my childhood and from favorite foods I’d picked up from the places we’ve lived, including my secret, over-baked pepperoni sub sandwich and my mom’s version of stuffed cabbage, along with Debbie’s party punch recipe, that the ladies of the church always asked for. It brought back good memories. Finding those old books made my day and snapped me out of a melancholy mood. Have you ever been surprised by what you’ve found?

This is the question that’s at the center of our Old Testament text: Look What I’ve Found! It happened during the reign of King Josiah, the boy king of Israel. He was crowned king at just 8 years old. 18 years later, at age 26, he ordered a renovation of the 300-year-old Jerusalem Temple, built by King Solomon. (For us, in comparison, it would be like renovating the fort at St. Augustine, FL.) In preparation for the renovation project, the King had the high priest Hilkiah collect funds from the temple treasury. Somewhere in the treasury, behind the chests of gold and coins, they discovered a long-lost book, hidden and out of sight for who knows how long. Once they blew off the dust and unrolled the scroll, they saw it was a book of the Mosaic Law, thought by scholars today to be the core writings that make up the Book of Deuteronomy.

For decades and decades, Israel stammered along on rote rituals and dull remembrances of faith practices long forgotten. Pagan worship was just as likely to be practiced in a Hebrew household, along-side vestiges of a half-forgotten Hebrew faith. After 300 years, most couldn’t tell the difference between the two. When they read the book to King Josiah his soul quaked and his spirit shivered as he realized the significance of the find and how far Israel had strayed from the Lord’s ways. It was like recovering the long-lost voice of Moses[1], says Old Testament professor Dean McBride, and it sparked a revival in Israel.

The king had his priest consult with a Jerusalem prophetess named Hulda as to God’s will in the matter. She spoke of God’s anger and disappointment with a complacent Israel, but because King Josiah showed repentance and was open to following the newly found book, God would not punish Israel in that generation. King Josiah commanded all Israel to observe the Passover, maybe for the first time in a century. A fresh breeze of the Spirit brought a newness to Israel and a revival spread across the land as they recognized the new in the old.[2]

I chose this Old Testament story of finding the book of the law because it mirrors the story of faith lost and faith found. It’s a metaphor, an imperfect simile of finding a fresh, new sense of what God is calling the church to be and do. We’re not going to be looking for lost books of the Bible in a church closet; instead, it’s a time to start looking for a fresh breeze of the Holy Spirit as Hidenwood wonders what the Lord wants the church to do and be in the months and years to come.

This story from Chronicles somehow came up in conversation after a session meeting when I was serving my first interim post in Kilmarnock. Dean McBride[3], a retired professor of Old Testament and ruling elder, gave me a 5-minute overview of this biblical text. Two things hit me from his 5-minute, impromptu Ted Talk on Josiah. The first was Dean’s quotable line that when they found this lost book of the Law, it was like recovering the long-lost voice of Moses. And the other thing that hit me was his comment that the new was recognized in the old. I’d like us to think about these two wise and deep thoughts today.

I believe that the Holy Spirit speaks to the church today, in much the same way the voice of Moses once again spoke to Israel. We hear the Spirit’s voice in prayer, in the Scriptures, in songs we sing, and in the sermon. God’s communing with the church today and our challenge is to be receptive to that voice and respond to it, in much the same way as King Josiah responded to the lost book. One basic core value of Presbyterians is an honest trust that the Holy Spirit speaks through the voice of the community of believers[4]. This week the Presbytery of Eastern Virginia will meet. We will act on your behalf and we trust that the Spirit will work through the deliberations and actions of the gathered people. God works through the Holy Spirit; somehow, we hear the voice of Christ in the midst of the community of faith.

Dean McBride pointed out that the Josiah story tells us how that’s done…the new is recognized in the old; our past guides our future. When a new pastor comes, it’s not going to be a demolition project; out with the old, in with the new. It never works that way (accept in our salvation when the “old is swept away to make room for the new”[5]). Instead, we will hear God’s plans for the church through the filters of those who know Hidenwood’s history, and appreciate where you’ve been, and understand who you are. And with that foundational baseline the church can build a God-inspired future with your new pastor. The new is recognized in the old. Church is not a lather, rinse, repeat kind of thing, just repeating the old ways. That never works; instead it’s the new coming from the old.

I complained about a recent issue of The Presbyterian Outlook, a news magazine about our denomination. The issue’s cover story was about clergy with tattoos and the meaning they express on arms and ankles, necks and wrists. I thought, “How trivial! Aren’t there more important things we need to deal with in the church?” But then I realized why a story on tattoos was relevant, important, maybe even necessary.

The point is that the church is changing rapidly, and so are our expectations about clergy. It’s a new day, a new reality, and the local church must accept some new ways of doing and being church. The old is gone, behold the new has come. It’s likely your next pastor will have tattoos, or maybe her spouse will have some. But realize that those tattooed and pierced clergy happen to be some of the best educated, Spirit-filled, clear thinking, Reformed, biblically grounded, energized and committed church leaders we’ve ever seen. Once again, we’ll see that at Presbytery on Tuesday when a married couple will give their statement of faith and be approved as candidates for ministry. Wow! A spirit-filled moment when we see God at work, calling new leaders from the pews of our churches. The new is recognized in the old, literally. On Tuesday we’ll all sing the Old Hundredth version of the Doxology in response God calling new ministers. It’s a living parable of Josiah’s find; the new is recognized in the old.

My prayer is that you’ll welcome a spirit of openness that naturally comes when there is a transition, granting permission to change things up, but always remembering the past, as you seek God’s word for Hidenwood Church. Jesus himself once said, “For anyone who asks will receive, and anyone who seeks will find, and the door will be opened to those who knock.”[6] So, ask, seek and knock. God will respond. Amen.

[1] Professor Dean McBride, Union Presbyterian Seminary, retired

[2] Ibid

[3] Old Testament professor from Union Presbyterian Seminary, retired

[4] Acts 1 gives us a rudimentary model for voting and electing church leaders by trusting in the Spirit to guide our human choices. And Book of Order  F-3.0102 Corporate Judgment

[5] II Corinthians 5:17

[6] Matt. 7:8  GNB

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